Music

From ‘Six Feet Under’ To ‘Chandelier’: The Evolution Of Sia In 15 Essential Tracks

Welcome, one and all, to the amazing technicolour dreamworld of Sia.

Sia history best tracks photo

The ascent of Sia Furler from Adelaide girl done good to in-demand global megastar is both unprecedented and unrivalled.

Unlike other pop stars, who have revealed more and more of themselves as time has gone on, Furler only came to worldwide recognition in the 2010s, after she had decided to stop showing her face in public.

This intrigue lead to some huge songwriting collaborations with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé and Halsey, as well as turning in some show-stealing feature vocals for hits by Flo Rida, Hilltop Hoods, David Guetta and Kanye West. She’s conquered stadiums, won 10 ARIAs, and transcended the Australian success story — and she still stands tall to this very day as one of the most powerful voices to ever emerge from this country.

Here, we look at Furler’s achievements through the lens of her songs. We could do an entire playlist dedicated entirely to her writing credits, but we’re focusing in specifically today on songs that feature Sia’s unmistakable voice — from her earliest days as a budding musician to her most recent collaborations as a part of LSD.

Welcome, one and all, to the amazing technicolour dreamworld of Sia.


#1. ‘Some Kind of Love Song’ (1999)

Our story does not begin with a Sia song — not technically, anyway. Originally an a capella track from her obscure 1997 debut OnlySee, her vocals were put behind a beat from electronic producer Friendly.

Repackaged as ‘Some Kind of Love Song,’ it ended up with a respectable spot in the Hottest 100 of 1999 — predating Sia’s own solo debut in the Hottest 100 by five years. Although partially shrouded in mystery, it was this song’s local success that spurred our heroine on to properly pursue her solo career.


#2. ‘Little Man’ (2000)

When Sia met the late Amy Winehouse, the ‘Rehab’ star gushed over Furler’s songwriting. Apropos of nothing, she played ‘Little Man’ on the guitar right in front of her.

It’s easy to see Sia’s nu-soul naivete at home in the confines of Winehouse’s beloved 2003 debut, Frank. Both artists were still finding their feet, even though the power of their voices was undisputed. When Sia reached out to Winehouse to collaborate, she famously declined: “I’m intimidated by you,” she texted. “I’ve been listening to you since I was a teenager.”


#3. ‘Destiny’ (2001)

On an international front, Furler first received a degree of recognition due to her collaborations with English downtempo duo Zero 7. This track was among the more successful, peaking in the UK top 40, and perhaps best demonstrates how Furler’s vocals tessellated with the group’s gentle, lounging approach to electronica.

She’s joined in the chorus by vocalist Sophie Barker, who creates lush harmonies to drizzle atop the diminished jazz chords and finely-picked acoustic guitar. Another boost of morale to Sia’s abilities, which would ultimately lead to a game-changing moment.


#4. ‘Breathe Me’ (2004)

Everything changes with ‘Breathe Me’ — although, in classic Sia fashion, it takes a while. The song does respectably on alternative radio, notching up Sia’s first solo Hottest 100 entry, but it wasn’t until the song was plucked out of obscurity to close out the beloved family drama Six Feet Under that it truly got the boost of recognition it deserved.

Fifteen years on, it remains one of Furler’s signature songs — quietly devastating, a blissful moment of introspection accentuated by orchestration that tugs at both literal strings and heartstrings alike.


#5. ‘Numb’ (2004)

A sister single from the criminally-underrated Colour the Small One, ‘Numb’ undeservedly lives in the shadow of ‘Breathe Me.’ Truthfully, it’s just as remarkable. Spiralling around a backmasked acoustic guitar and creaking double bass, Furler’s vocals range from gentle whispers to a harmony-laden force in the chorus.

While the single edit added in further keyboards and programming, perhaps to lean in on the Zero 7 success, the definitive version is the album cut — the real drums and striking outro truly seal the deal on this being a career-best moment.


#6. ‘The Girl You Lost To Cocaine’ (2008)

Furler moved into album number four cautiously, but still with progression in mind. Wanting to move out of the downtempo dystopia, ‘Cocaine’ was a confident strut up to indie-pop territory.

The full band bursts into technicolour after the sepia of Small One, and the earworm chorus remains one of the best — if comparatively understated — that she’s ever put her name to. “There is nothing that you can do,” she affirms. “I will not stay.”

Thus began the biggest journey of her career — all with a single step.


#7. ‘Soon We’ll Be Found’ (2008)

By this point in her career, lovelorn balladry is Sia’s bread and butter. That’s not to say, however, that there’s no nutritional value. This was one of the two early Sia tracks included in her Nostalgic For The Present world tour, and even after a decade it still held just as much emotional weight.

Equal parts impassioned and exhausted, Furler’s conviction in her delivery sets this apart from other slower-paced moments. Also worth seeking out the video, where the whole song is delivered in sign language — which translates beautifully.


#8. Buttons’ (2009)

They tried to keep ‘Buttons’ secret. They really did. It’s the last song on the Australian edition of Some People, and on the international version it’s a hidden track.

Ultimately, they couldn’t fight it: ‘Buttons’ is what the kids today would deem a bop, and rightly so. It bounces about with a newfound sense of vibrancy, even as it details the tension of a soured relationship (as Furler’s wont to do). A CSS remix boosted the song’s pep in its step even further. Consider the button well and truly pushed.



#9. ‘You’ve Changed’ (2009)

She’s here, she’s queer and she’s changed… for the better, yea-heahhhhhh. As a precursor to her ambitious new LP, Furler fired off this joyful pop number into the stratosphere with some earth-rotating synth arpeggios and chicken-scratch guitars to boot. It’s a bold new direction, a world away from Small One despite only coming out five years after the fact.

Tracks like ‘Clap Your Hands’ would continue this energy throughout on 2010’s We Are Born, but ‘You’ve Changed’ makes the list for both getting in first and doing it the best.



#10. ‘I’m In Here’ (2010)

Sia may have been reinvented with the release of We Are Born, but ‘I’m in Here’ is indicative of the fact she has never once forgotten her roots.

Marrying her downtempo past with her electronically-tinged present, she’s able to find a happy medium that is still able to cut through the treacle and get to the heart of the matter. If We Are Born was full of songs like this, it wouldn’t be nearly as special. By being the exception rather than the rule, ‘I’m in Here’ boldly stands out.


#11. ‘Titanium’ (2011)

2011 was an astronomically huge year for Sia. She teamed up with fellow South Australians the Hilltop Hoods for their triple-platinum ‘I Love It,’ scored her first-ever number-one single as a part of Flo Rida’s ‘Wild Ones’ and she dropped this decade-defining banger for good measure.

Teaming up with French powerhouse David Guetta, Furler’s tried-and-true histrionics are matched with a state-of-the-art EDM drop to really drive home her staying power. A decade of dominance followed, and it’s easy to point to this very song as being the proper tipping point.


#12. ‘Elastic Heart’ (2014)

‘Elastic Heart’ first emerged in 2013 as part of The Hunger Games soundtrack. In the initial version, the second verse is fobbed to Canadian internet heartthrob The Weeknd — and, as admirably as he handles the task, it mostly feels like he’s interrupting her.

When a solo version was released a year later on 1000 Forms of Fear, it felt complete. Diplo’s swinging, swaggered beat felt more realised when guided entirely by Furler’s vocals alone, and the arresting music video was the first in a long line of absolute winners.

 


#13. ‘Chandelier’ (2014)

Of course, we can’t discuss 1000 Forms of Fear without analysing the single biggest song of Sia’s entire career. This is a song Sia will be belting out for as long as she is physically able. It’s the one everyone will always wait for at every show she ever plays. A decade on from ‘Breathe Me,’ ‘Chandelier’ replaced it as her definitive signature song.

It doesn’t quite take a rocket scientist to figure out why this has all come to be. It’s a song of desperation and despair, but it’s given such utter gusto that it makes you soar whenever it comes on. It’s the kind of performance you can only give once in a lifetime — and Furler has not come close to matching it, either before or since.


#14. ‘The Greatest’ (2016)

Although This is Acting felt the most disjointed of all Sia’s albums, it was kinda the point: Nearly every song was written for another artist. One of the exceptions, however, was a song that truthfully couldn’t have been done justice by anyone else.

“I see another mountain to climb/But I got stamina,” she sings defiantly in the opening verse. If there’s anyone who knows the intricacies of adversity, it’s gotta be Sia. ‘The Greatest,’ naturally, feels like a complete triumph. Always nice to get the nod from Pulitzer Kenny, too.


#15. ‘Genius’ (2018)

We close out with yet another key collaboration, this time with Diplo and Labrynth under the moniker of LSD. You can read our in-depth look at the album itself if you’re at all interested, but if you’re just taking a cursory glance then this is the song to suss out. It features a major earworm hook, a show-stealing verse from our girl and a prime Diplo beat to go with it.

It’s keeping Sia in the zeitgeist without the mounting pressure of a solo follow-up — why not enjoy it?


David James Young is a writer and podcaster. He met Sia at a show in Sydney back in 2010 and she couldn’t have been nicer. If she’s reading this, he hopes she is having a wonderful day. You can find out more about him by visiting www.davidjamesyoung.com.